I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to interview my friend Christine Exley about her exciting new business, Wagaroo. To celebrate the launch of her new site, I asked Christine to tell me a little bit about her business. And if you know Greg, then you also know that he is so anxious to get a dog. I asked Christine to answer a few questions that I had about how to choose the dog that is best for us.
Leslie: What is Wagaroo?
Christine: Wagaroo was founded to bring a simple principle to life: When it comes to getting a pet, it's time to make it easier for people to do the right thing! At Wagaroo, you'll only find available dogs from the good guys and gals. No puppy mills. No backyard breeders. Just owners, rescues, responsible breeders, and shelters working together to find great homes for dogs who need them.
Leslie: What inspired you to start a business?
Christine: I was eleven years old when I started volunteering at my local animal shelter and planning ways to save all homeless pets. My initial plan involved buying a piece of land big enough to house all homeless pets. Over time though, my plan evolved many times. There are so many people and events that ultimately inspired me to co-found Wagaroo. However, for the sake of time, I will start with the most recent history.
In Fall 2010, I took a class co-taught by Doug Bernhard and Muriel Niederle in behavioral economics, now my field of specialization. Through the lens of behavioral economics, I started to see new ways in which economics could help solve simple problems in life.
Around the same time, I started volunteering at the San Francisco SPCA. The SFPCA is always trying to find faster ways to get dogs and cats adopted from their shelter so they can take in and help even more dogs and cats.
Then came my idea: we just need to develop a better matching algorithm for pets and families so the search can be faster and easier! In early 2012, I was incredibly fortunate to be able to pitch my matching idea to Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, who shared my idea with her co-president of the SF SPCA, Jason Walthall. As it turned out, Jason had heard this idea before, but from someone else -- Elena Battles. He connected me with Elena and that is when Wagaroo really became a possibility.
Elena holds her MBA from Stanford and is the former COO of Humane Society Silicon Valley. She is brilliant with both dogs and business. For most of 2012, we iterated through various ideas, including piloting a matching algorithm at the SF SPCA. We found out that the matching algorithm was not nearly as important as unifying the fragmented market for dogs. That is, we saw the need to provide people with easy access to all available dogs from responsible sources-- shelters, rescues, responsible breeders, and owners needing to re-home their dogs. The last source is a particularly new idea that we are very excited to explore. Almost exactly one year later, we launched the alpha version of Wagaroo.
Leslie: What advice do you have for selecting the breed that is best for us?
Christine: Probably, I would advise you not to get stuck on any particular breed. Instead, think up a list of desired traits and look for a dog that fulfills your list. Certain breeds may correlate with certain behaviors, or even be more susceptible to certain behaviors. However, a breed does NOT determine how a dog will behave. So, while it is likely smart to research breeds that you are interested in, it is most important to just determine the behaviors of dogs that interest you. Also, if you research dog breeds, be careful to look for reputable sources, such as rescue groups for that particular breed. Often, news articles and discussion boards spread misinformation like wildfire, particularly for pit bulls.
Leslie: What is important to look for when we visit a shelter or responsible breeder to pick out a dog?
Christine: It is most important to look for someone who is knowledgeable about the dogs and can allow you to closely interact with the dogs. At shelters, this often may be a staff member or volunteer who can correctly tell you what to expect from certain dogs. Or, better yet, start volunteering there so you can know for yourself!
Leslie: What are 3 important questions to ask the shelter or responsible breeder before I take home a dog?
- What would the ideal family for this dog look like, and why?
- What does this dog's medical and behavioral history entail?
- For a shelter/rescue, how and why did this dog end up in your care? For an owner who is re-homing his or her dog, why are you no longer keeping your dog? For a responsible breeder, can I meet this dog's parents?
In some ways, what questions are asked of you may be most indicative because people who care most about their dogs are looking for the best homes for them.
Leslie: Many lovable dogs are crosses between dogs with very different temperaments. If I want to adopt a mixed breed dog, how can I know what its temperament will be like?
Christine: This one is easy -- adopt an adult dog! I believe breeds are far less important than the individual characteristics and personality of a dog. With an adult dog of any breed, you will be able to know so much about them. Just take time to get to know an adult dog before adopting him or her. See how teh dog behaves around kids, strangers, every member of your family, and other dogs. See how the dog acts inside, outside, on-leash and off-leash. See how the dog reacts to you when he/she is eating, playing with a toy, or being petted. Also, know that less than desirable behaviors can almost always be overcome if you are wiling to put in the time to train and properly socialize your dog.
Leslie: How can I be sure that a breeder is responsible?
Christine: This one is hard - we are still trying to figure this out, and that is why there are currently no dogs from breeders of any sort on wagaroo.com. Many organizations provide a good list of red flags and questions that you should ask a breeder, such as the SF SPCA and the ASPCA. But, there is no list of known responsible breeders. A referral from a trusted source may be your best bet. Hopefully, Wagaroo will be able to be that trusted source in the near future.
Check us out at wagaroo.com if you
- love dogs and want to check out what we are up to,
- have any questions or suggestions for us,
- are interested in reading our blog,
- are looking for a new dog,
- need to find a new home for your dog, or
- would like to refer a responsible breeder to us.
Photo of Christine Exley and her adorable dog, Pepper!